Brooklyn: Bridging the old and the new

Brooklyn: Bridging the old and the new
FIS Global HQ

Brooklyn, one of the oldest neighborhoods in downtown Jacksonville, is opening a new chapter in its ongoing story of growth and revitalization via several new commercial and residential ventures.

The neighborhood is situated along the St. Johns River, south of downtown. It is bounded by McCoys Creek and the CSX Railroad lines to the North and Interstate 95 to the south.

Established shortly before the Civil War as a residential neighborhood, Brooklyn has since expanded from its humble beginnings of wooden houses and small stores into a sprawling mixed-use area that puts a heavy emphasis on fostering a healthy lifestyle and sustainability.

The expansion includes green areas, outdoor foot paths, shopping centers, coffee houses, brew pubs, full-blown restaurants and modern apartment complexes with views overlooking the St. Johns River as well as swimming pools and workout studios.

The latest and largest addition to this evolving and up-and-coming area is Fidelity National Services Inc. (FIS), a provider of financial technology services.

FIS, a Fortune 200 company, in 2019 received city and state approvals on an economic development package for its plans to build a new, expanded world headquarters in Brooklyn. In June, the company celebrated the topping off of the final steel beam alongside local leaders, including Mayor Lenny Curry.

A spokesperson for FIS offered insight into why the company chose to consolidate its Jacksonville operations in a new complex located at 323 Riverside Avenue.

“FIS is looking forward to opening its new headquarters in 2022. There is a revival taking place in Brooklyn, and we believe this new building will add to the neighborhood’s aesthetics. It will be one of the most environmentally friendly buildings in Jacksonville, LEED Platinum certified and built in line with the WELL Building Standard. For our growing employee base, it will feature 12 stories and 25,000 square feet of state-of-the-art client engagement and innovation centers, a workout facility, and an on-site dining hall—all with expansive views of the St. Johns River. Additionally, it will provide a scenic, continuous shaded walkway from Riverside Avenue to the Riverwalk, including a linear garden walk with engaging public art, benches and a 21 foot-green wall that the whole community can enjoy.”

Rendering of Fuqua’s One Riverside Avenue development
Rendering of Fuqua’s One Riverside Avenue development

Atlanta-based developer Jeff Fuqua is also investing in the area. Fuqua is working with the Downtown Investment Authority on turning the former Florida Times-Union property into a mixed-use development. The project is titled ‘One Riverside Avenue.’

Lori Boyer, DIA Chief Executive Office, said the development is a combination of retail and residential. “The city gets the land that it needs to widen McCoys Creek and a new park space. There are a couple acres of new parks that are Riverfront and it’s adjacent to the railroad tracks. Everything from McCoys Creek over to the railroad track would be a new public park. The development proposal also includes another new grocer and additional retail, including restaurants along McCoys Creek and along the riverfront.”

At its most recent meeting, the DIA board did not approve the project – but Boyer says to interpret the decision as “go back and work with the developer on a couple aspects.”

Boyer hopes to have an updated proposal, with a restaurant in the initial development phase, approved at the DIA Board’s next meeting, on September 2.

Fuqua previously teamed with Jacksonville-based Regency Centers Corp. to develop the Brooklyn Station on Riverside Avenue. Anchored by The Fresh Market, the shopping center continues to be a popular mainstay since it opened in 2014. 

Along with new commercial developments, Brooklyn also is experiencing residential expansion. Vista Brooklyn, a new apartment community, opened in April at 200 Riverside Avenue.

Lisa Gunderson, Vice President of Asset Management, Bristol Development Group, was drawn to the history and potential of the area.  “We identified this neighborhood close to 10 years ago as a place that we saw an opportunity for growth. We loved what we saw in the neighboring areas, in Five Points and Avondale. We loved that this was a bridge between those areas and downtown. We loved the history of the neighborhood and all the things that that brought to the experience. We thought that there was a need for a differentiator in a housing opportunity.”

Gunderson says Vista Brooklyn is designed to be an “experience for everyone who walks through its doors.” The 10-floor property’s amenities include a gift-wrapping room, pet spa and a rooftop pool and beer garden where residents can bring their own keg for a celebration. According to Gunderson, the property is currently 40 percent leased.

VISTA Brooklyn, 200 Riverside
VISTA Brooklyn, 200 Riverside

Brooklyn Vista’s ground-floor retail space also is getting a new resident: NAI Hallmark. The brokerage and property management firm will lease up to 40 percent of the ground floor. The company is also in “serious negotiations” with several food and beverage providers to lease the remaining space.

Gunderson adds that “wellness” is a focal point of Vista Brooklyn. To that end, the complex includes a fitness center, wellness studio and bike room.

Complementing Vista Brooklyn’s health and wellness focus is the Winston Family YMCA, a 72,000-square-foot hub that offers fitness activities, exercise programs and workout equipment.

It is also home to the Luther and Blanche Coggin Healthy Living Center, in partnership with Baptist Health, Brooks Rehabilitation and Florida Blue.

Named after the late James H. Winston, a Jacksonville civic leader, real estate developer and philanthropist, the YMCA also has expansion plans on the horizon. Tim Burrows, District Executive Director, said, “We’re working on a capital expansion of our first floor and part of those discussions is having an outdoor fitness space on the river. We have a beautiful grass space outside of our aquatic center and we’re looking to create community fitness classes.” Burrows is also working with a committee to build a rooftop wellness center with views of the river.

According to Burrows, plans call for the outdoor fitness area to be completed by next summer.

Brooklyn’s growth story also contains some lows as well as highs. In July 2016, Top Chef season seven winner, Kevin Sbraga abruptly shut down his eatery, Sbraga & Co. The restaurant had opened the prior November at 220 Riverside. The opening of Sbraga was followed by Hobnob and Brixx Wood Fired Pizza. All three of the restaurants eventually closed.

On the bright side: Anejo Cocina, a Mexican restaurant with a location in Ponte Vedra has moved in to 220 Riverside. Anejo is a new restaurant concept from Blanca Valencia and family. The family also own Salsas and Que Pasa Mexican restaurants in the area. The new restaurant opened in March.

Asian restaurant Bento has also opened a location in Brooklyn Place Shopping center. The center is located adjacent to Brooklyn Station.

Along with restaurants, new hotels are also moving into the neighborhood. A Marriott Residence Inn is being developed at 357 Oak Street. Owned and operated by Miami-based Baywood Hotels Inc., under the Residence Inn brand, the hotel includes studio, one- and two-bedroom suites with separate living and sleeping areas. The hotel is on pace to open by the end of next month.

Burrows has seen Brooklyn evolve over the years. “I’d probably say over the past five years, the neighborhood really developed itself.” He says he is optimistic about the new developments. “It’s really just blown up. I don’t know a better word for it. And there’s even more growth to be had.”

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